Despite cryptocurrency crash, Amazon sees opportunity to embrace blockchain

  • AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveiled two new blockchain products at the re:Invent conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
  • The company will offer Amazon Quantum Ledger Database and Amazon Managed Blockchain for developers using its cloud-computing services.
  • Amazon is introducing the services despite an almost 70 percent plunge this year in the price of bitcoin.
Andy Jassy, CEO Amazon Web Services, speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 25, 2016.
Andy Jassy, CEO Amazon Web Services, speaks at the WSJD Live conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., October 25, 2016.

Even as cryptocurrencies are getting crushed, Amazon sees plenty of opportunity with blockchain technology.

The company said on Wednesday that it's introducing two new services, including a managed blockchain offering, to let Amazon Web Services customers set up "a scalable blockchain network with just a few clicks" that "automatically scales to meet the demands of thousands of applications running millions of transactions."

Blockchain is a software protocol that underpins cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Also called distributed ledger technology, its potential has been compared to the internet — but the hype has outpaced reality. Outside of cryptocurrencies, few commercially viable products have been built on blockchain to date, and crypto prices have plunged, with bitcoin losing almost 70 percent of its value in 2018. Meanwhile, Cowen estimates it will take almost six years for blockchain to gain widespread adoption.

Amazon's new product will support two popular existing blockchain platforms — Ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric. Ethereum is a popular open-source building platform for developers, linked to the cryptocurrency ether, while corporate giants including IBM are currently building projects on Hyperledger.

"We don't build things for optics," AWS CEO Andy Jassy said on Wednesday at the company's re:Invent conference in Las Vegas. Jassy said AWS only spends resources on something when they "understand the problem" and said, "this is something that a lot of companies need."

Walmart recently became one of the first retailers to explain how it will be using the technology. The company said it would require lettuce suppliers to upload data about their foods to blockchain within a year.

Still, Jassy said that AWS is responding to demand from existing customers. He pointed to mortgages, health-care records, supply chain tracking and vehicle history records as common customer use cases.

In addition to the managed blockchain product, AWS announced Amazon Quantum Ledger Database, or QLDB, where customers can replicate a copy of their blockchain network activity.

Amazon already leverages Ethereum on its cloud network, and in May announced a partnership with start-up Kaleido to make it easier for customers to put their services on blockchain. Microsoft offers customers "blockchain as a service" on its Azure cloud.

— CNBC's Jordan Novet and Sara Salinas contributed to this report.